NRC okays license transfers for Energy Harbor plants

October 3, 2023, 7:00AMNuclear News

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has approved the transfer of the operating licenses for four reactors and their associated spent fuel storage facilities from Energy Harbor Nuclear Corporation to Vistra Operations Company, the agency announced September 29.

A necessary step in Vistra’s proposed acquisition of Energy Harbor, the approval covers Pennsylvania’s Beaver Valley-1 and -2 and Ohio’s Davis-Besse-1 and Perry-1.

According to the announcement, the NRC staff’s review of the license transfer application concluded that Vistra is financially and technically qualified to conduct the activities authorized by the licenses. Staff also found that Vistra satisfies the NRC’s decommissioning funding assurance requirements and that the facilities are not owned, controlled, or dominated by a foreign entity.

Background: Announced in March, the proposed transaction would merge Vistra’s nuclear and retail businesses—including Texas’s Comanche Peak nuclear plant—and its Vistra Zero renewables and storage projects with Energy Harbor’s nuclear and retail businesses under a new subsidiary holding company dubbed Vistra Vision. With the addition of Energy Harbor’s four units (sporting a total net generation capacity of 4,053 MWe), the new firm would have the second-largest competitive nuclear fleet in the United States, the March announcement stated.

The deal still requires nods from the Department of Justice and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, however, and on August 17, FERC issued a “deficiency letter” to the companies seeking additional information on potential market power issues surrounding the planned $6.3 billion asset purchase. The following week, the DOJ filed comments with FERC, urging the agency to carefully review the proposal to ensure that it will not “substantially lessen competition and increase wholesale electricity prices” in the PJM region.

Figuring prominently in these concerns is PJM’s ATSI transmission zone—the only zone in which Vistra and Energy Harbor both own generation assets. Included in ATSI are Energy Harbor’s Davis-Besse and Perry plants and Vistra’s gas- and oil-fired Richmond facility and oil-fired Stryker unit.

Vistra and Energy Harbor responded in a September 18 filing with FERC, stating, “In an effort to put to rest any potential arguments to the contrary and provide for a quicker review process to allow applicants to close on the proposed transaction as soon as possible . . . applicants are herein also including an affirmative commitment to divest the only generation facilities currently owned by Vistra in ATSI—the Richland and Stryker facilities. These are the only generation facilities that could even arguably be considered as located in an overlapping ‘submarket’ in PJM with the Energy Harbor facilities.”

The companies also committed to offering the Richland and Stryker plants “at a level no greater than their cost-based offers, as determined pursuant to PJM rules, pending the completion of such divestiture.”

Meanwhile: Also on September 29, the NRC accepted for docketing Energy Harbor’s initial license renewal application for Perry, filed with the agency July 3. If approved for a 20-year life extension, Perry would be licensed to operate through November 7, 2046.

A notice of an opportunity to request a hearing and to petition for leave to intervene in the matter was published in the September 29 Federal Register. Requests must be filed by November 28.

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